Anime and Romance
I don't typically like fiction where the romance plot is the main plot of the story. I'll choose my Bram Stoker over your Jane Austen any day. But, I do like it when a romantic sub-plot in a regular story is done well. Couples add a spark of passion to characters; fighting for someone you love is a good motivator, being in love can make someone's will stronger, and the romantic partner can also serve as a valuable partner or ally to the protagonist. No wonder the power of love is a common trope, especially in stories that take place in a fantasy setting.
However, not all anime romances are good. Sometimes, the obvious romantic love interests are tediously dragged through an endless marathon of unresolved sexual tension before their burning feelings for one another ever become more than him being a creep, unintentionally or not, and her slapping him or throwing things at him for it. I wanted to avoid this kind of childish cliché, except in cases where I really happened to like the couple in question, despite their bickering and "will they or won't they" getting old after a while.
When anime avoids Japanese culture's propensity for one to be shy and not up front with their feelings, it gets much less annoying and much less needlessly complicated. However, due to the confusing nature of the reticence in Japanese culture to admit to feelings of love for someone, many of the couples on this list may or may not be "official", and may be spoilers if they are "official" to people who have not watched their complete series. So, proceed with caution. Here are my personal favorites when it comes to anime couples:
7. Yusuke and Keiko - YuYu Hakusho
Although Yusuke and Keiko have that kind of relationship I find to be a bit annoying and cliché, which is basically: girl and boy meet, boy annoys girl constantly and often unintentionally embarrasses himself to her, they have stupid misunderstandings, she beats the crap out of him, but it's not seen as abuse but rather as comedy.
When I saw YuYu Hakusho as a teenager when it first aired on Toonami, I thought of Keiko as a strong person because she didn't take any crap; she could slap basically the strongest dude in the universe if he in any way offended her. But really, now I kind of see her as a bit too immature, a bit too hot-tempered and emotional, and, having seen a lot more anime couples where the woman always sees violence against a man as acceptable, a bit annoyingly cliché. I also sometimes thought, both then and now, that they really didn't always have much of a place for her in the story. She's the spectator and... that's about it, after helping Yusuke come back to life in the first story arc.
This is my beef with a lot of side characters in YYH, many of them are not very interesting by themselves and exist to simply react to what the main four characters are doing. It's like they crammed a lot of characters who are all pretty unique and interesting in, but they don't always have enough of their own story. But then again, every work of fiction has to designate central vs. peripheral characters, so this is a bit of a nit-pick on my part.
What is good about Yusuke and Keiko's relationship? Well, she humanizes him. She reminds him, as he increasingly becomes caught up in issues within demon world, that he is still a human and fights for humanity. She does what a good girlfriend should do, which is love him and stand by him even when circumstances conflict with their happiness. She deals with a lot of grief and sorrow when Yusuke is separated from her or in danger. She wants to go back to the simple life they had as kids together, but realizes to her sorrow that this is no longer possible. I found that even if I didn't like Keiko as a satellite character, I did find that her emotional turmoil was easy to sympathize with. And, whenever the two could be together, it was a sweet, realistic, teenage romance, the kind of young couple you know is just going to be together forever.
6. Miroku and Sango - Inuyasha
Now, Rumiko Takahashi, manga artist responsible for both Inuyasha and Ranma 1/2, is a common user and possible originator of the cliché kind of anime romance I was describing earlier. Takahashi's style says "The fans get cake in 300 episodes, I swear" and in the meantime she likes to throw lots of obstacles in the way of her "will they or won't they" couples getting together for real.
With Inuyasha and Kagome, the main couple in Inuyasha, I found everything with them to be kind of childish and irksome. They have Inuyasha be conflicted between the choice between Kagome and Kikyo, even though Kagome kind of is Kikyo, from the future, via reincarnation (Yeah, it's as weird as it sounds.), and then they have Kagome facing a few other suitors too. And when you take this into account with the fact that Kagome and Inuyasha seem to hate each other and fight more than they get along, well, you should see why they didn't make this list.
But, in Inuyasha, I actually found myself liking the beta couple in the show more than the main couple. I'm talking about Sango and Miroku. Miroku is a Buddhist monk who, to Sango's annoyance, flirts with every woman he sees and takes it even a step further, asking those women to bear his child. He also has a tendency to grope Sango and other women, often pretending it was accidental, which usually earns him a few slaps. His main power is the "wind tunnel" he can open in his hand that sucks demons into another dimension. Sango is a passionate demon-slayer adventurer whose main attacks are physical with the huge boomerang she carries. Together, they are important assets to Inuyasha's team, but sometimes they also get their own stories apart from Inuyasha and Kagome, and these are good as well. I like them for being that somewhat cliché anime couple who eventually become great friends and allies to each other, evolving beyond their initial immaturity (for the most part).
Basically, when I watched the show, it was for Miroku and Sango more than it was for Inuyasha and Kagome, both of who I thought were bratty, juvenile, and annoying. One thing I like is that often, when Kagome and/or Inuyasha IS being annoying or stupid, either Miroku, Sango, or both are the first to make them come to their senses. Thanks for being the part of Inuyasha I liked, you two!
5. Chihiro and Haku - Spirited Away
While maybe not a "couple" in the adult sense, this pair forms a deep friendship throughout the course of the movie that makes nearly everyone go "awwww". Spirited Away is no doubt one of Studio Ghibli's best films. In it, little girl Chihiro is forced to work in a bathhouse for a witch who turned her parents into pigs.
As she does this, her initial survival depends on taking advice of a boy/dragon/spirit named Haku. Together, both of them help each other overcome the witch and rediscover their true selves. For Chihiro, love manifests in a pure, innocent form for Haku when he is injured and she is desperate to do anything to help him get better. In a way, it is this pure, selfless love for Haku that is part of the key to her tremendous character development. She is also an important part of his character development, as he goes from being selfish, cold, and indifferent to caring and getting in touch with his emotional side, which helps him discover his true nature. This had been hidden from him from years of living under the witch's magic.
They aren't a cliché anime couple, or even maybe a "romantic" couple, but since their love is part of what makes their story so great, I felt like putting them on this list.
4. Rain and Domon - G Gundam
I never watched much of any other series in the Gundam franchise, but I was hooked on G Gundam from the first time I saw it on TV. The reason is simple; to me, G Gundam had the most interesting, entertaining, sympathetic, and likeable characters. I bought the manga of it in junior high and it was one of my favorite mangas for a long time.
So, in G Gundam, the majority of humans now live in space colonies because Earth is too polluted. However, once every four years they all use Earth as a ring to host the Gundam fights, where pilots of giant robots called Gundams represent their countries. The winner of the fights makes their colony the leader of the other colonies for the next 4 years. Domon Kasshu, the fighter from Neo-Japan, is traveling around Earth, interacting with Gundam fighters from other countries, and trying to find out more information about his long-lost brother.
Rain Mikamura is his friend, traveling companion, and the one who Winry's his robot whenever he breaks it. Like Winry from Fullmetal Alchemist, she also loves to chew him a new one whenever he damages the Gundam. She eventually grows softer on him though, and he eventually becomes more mature. Therefore, this is like what I said about Spirited Away in that I like how their relationship makes both of them become better people. Their adventures together also make them love and appreciate each other more over time. I like how Rain is basically the much maligned "Damsel in Distress" trope done right; she is smart, she is tough, and she is capable of fighting by herself, but since Domon is an expert fighter and she is not, it actually makes sense that she would be the one more often put in danger by the bad guys, and they would know that they could control Domon by using the fact that he has strong feelings for her.
The other thing I like is that most of this romance is never that explicitly stated. Domon and Rain are just regular people and they don't need elaborate Princess Bride like theatrical speeches declaring their love for one another; and yet that love is still just as real and apparent to the audience. Sometimes they even deny it, and sometimes they might seek other company, trying out other options just to see if they truly want to be with each other. But in the end, you know they're the only ones for each other. And it's even cuter seeing them realize that themselves.
3. Shishio and Yumi - Rurouni Kenshin
Now, this is probably the oddest entry on the list, because the main couple in Rurouni Kenshin, Kenshin and Kaoru, I was also considering for a spot. But they do a lot of the cliché immature bickering and slapstick/domestic violence that so many other anime couples do, and the in-jokes get old fast between them. Kaoru might have a heart of gold, but her moodiness and hair-trigger temper made me think Kenshin could do better. At any rate, as a couple, Kenshin and Kaoru are not quite as interesting or unique as the villainous couple, Shishio and Yumi.
Shishio was an assassin who wanted revenge against the Meiji government for burning him in an attempt to kill him. He assembles the ten best fighters he can find, called the "Juppongatana" ("Ten Swords") and rallies them to his cause, along with the help of Hoji, his right-hand man, Seta Sojiro, a boy who admires Shishio very much, and his lover, Yumi. Yumi was a high-end prostitute, but prostitution was forbidden by the Meiji government, leaving her without a livelihood. Luckily, she is able to leave that life behind her to be Shishio's lady, although a drag queen and the boy also seem affectionate towards Shishio, but fortunately, he only truly loves Yumi.
Spoiler Alert: Don't read below this sentence if you haven't watched the show!
Yumi dies trying to protect Shishio when he battles Kenshin, but both of them are killed. As Wikipedia describes it, "Yumi dies trying to protect Shishio when his body becomes overheated in his fight with Kenshin. After she hurls herself in between Kenshin and Shishio and convinces the former to spare the latter, Shishio runs her through with his sword, mortally injuring her in the process and wounding Kenshin as well. Knowing that she has finally been of use to Shishio in his most important battle, she dies happy and released of her former frustration for not being able to fight next to him. She appears with Shishio and Hōji in hell."
So, I liked Yumi for her devotion to him and genuine concern for his health, and the fact that someone as beautiful as her can love a man who is disfigured by burn scarring. I liked Shishio because he's the coolest bad guy ever; a monstrous sociopath who acts completely out of self-interest alone and believes whole-heartedly that only the strong deserve to live. His ten Juppongatana underlings all have very interesting back stories and impressive fighting techniques of their own, but his tops them all, obviously. To have a great story arc, you need a great villain, and Shishio is the greatest villain in Rurouni Kenshin, making the Kyoto Arc the best story arc in it. I love how, even after they're both dead, they just decide "Hey, let's take over hell together!"
2. Michiru and Haruka - Sailor Moon
Another example where I find the main couple in the show kind of uninteresting and cliché compared to another couple in the same show. Sailor Moon follows schoolgirl Usagi and friends' adventures as they become astrologically-themed superhero magical girls and fight monsters and save the day. The show is incredibly famous and popular worldwide. In Sailor Moon, the main romance is between Mamoru and Usagi, but it follows the same cliché pattern of a lot of immature anime romances, with them going from fighting and being annoying to each other to being madly in love. The problem is, it seemed almost as though they were only in love because the plot, er, "destiny" was suited to it, and not because they were really all that compatible. I mean, he is a brain and she's brainless. It is the kind of thing that can happen in real life, but it still seemed a bit forced. I liked whenever either one had temptations to stray, because those episodes allowed them to discover what was special about the other that no other person could replace.
But, since they're still sort of boring and sort of cliché, the couple that truly shines in my mind in Sailor Moon is Haruka and Michiru, who are Sailors Uranus and Neptune, respectively. Two women who go to another school, who are older than the main cast and more mature. They begin with goals that are dissimilar to the "inner senshi" group consisting of Sailors Moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and Jupiter. Basically, instead of saving people with the "pure heart" crystals the bad guys are seeking, they want to find the magical crystals before the bad guys do and use their power, presumably for good. Even though this means that the individual harboring a "pure heart" crystal in their soul will die once it's extracted from them. So, this sets up an interesting moral conflict between this pair and the main cast.
Over time, they grow to see the error of their ways, and they end up helping the main cast in many battles, even though they don't agree with them on what the ultimate goal of the Sailor scouts should be. The episode where we learn the story of how they met and became Sailor Scouts was very touching. Unlike so many other anime couples, they didn't have the "Jerk! Baka! Pervert!" *slap* *kiss* *angry blush* crap I've seen a million times.
I liked that they both had very strong passions in life; Haruka likes motorcycle racing and running track, and Michiru is a violinist, swimmer, and an artist who paints beautiful undersea landscapes. They seem to have the ability to intuitively find the person the bad guys are going to target next, so Michiru and Haruka are often at the scene of the attack before any other Sailor Scouts. They are a great couple not only because individually they're so cool, but because they deal with a relationship in a confident, mature way. Things don't always go their way, but they stick by each other through thick and thin.
1. Madoka and Homura - Puella Magi Madoka Magica
Warning: Contains both Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Rebellion Spoilers
Probably the most unconventional couple on this list, but I chose them as number one for the strength and purity of Homura's love for Madoka, which is her primary motivation. Madoka herself I thought was kind of boring, she's just a sort of generic everyday nice girl. But for Homura to have developed such an intense passion for Madoka, and to care about her enough to time travel in an endless effort to save her life was very touching. It was tragic the way, as Homura got stronger and better as a Magical Girl through the repeated re-living of the same month, she also became more and more distant from Madoka, with Madoka remembering their history together less and less each time.
Homura started out as a shy, awkward new girl who had been sick so long that she wasn't good at much. Madoka, by being kind to her instead of making fun of her for not being as good at the math problem or as fast in gym class as the other girls, gained her friendship and admiration. Madoka became a magical girl, but nearly met her death at a time called Walpurgis Night, when faced with a nearly impossible-to-kill evil being known as a witch (but in this world, "witches" are more eldritch abominations than humans). This led to Homura becoming a magical girl in order to try to save Madoka, who she feels guilty for not being able to protect. She goes back in time, and several times relives the month where she met Madoka, trying to become strong enough as a magical girl to defeat Walpurgis Night and trying to warn Madoka and other girls not to trust Kyubey or become magical girls.
I don't normally like time travel being used as a plot device, but in Homura's case, it makes sense what she does rather than using her power to stop genocides or feed the starving; she is obsessed with Madoka and winning her love and protecting her. When this comes to light at the end of the series, it's extremely touching.
In Rebellion, Homura basically envisions a new reality in which Madoka and the other magical girls can live a happy life. However, her curiosity eventually leads her to stumble on clues that cause her to discover that she's been in a coma, trapped by Incubators (Kyubey) and living inside her own hallucination. She ends up becoming a more powerful being, neither magical girl nor witch, but ascending like Madoka to a higher form of existence. She ends up basically rewriting reality just to create a world where Madoka is still safe. Together the two seem to form a balanced pair of cosmic forces, like Yin and Yang.
Although it may be a bit one-sided at first, the purity and inner goodness of Madoka and Homura's unconventional friendship that blossoms into a universe-breaking romance makes them my favorite anime couple of all time.
While what makes a "good anime couple" is very much in the eye of the beholder, the process of making this list helped me identify common traits I like about certain anime couples:
- They either avoid the typical pattern of anime romance, with the guy being an accidental pervert, or a misunderstanding causing a fight, etc., and the girl beating the shit out of him for laughs, or they do that in a subdued, actually funny, or more creative way.
- They have real reasons to be together other than some nebulous "destiny" thing, which is basically like saying "because the plot requires it".
- Even if they disagree or fight, when times get hard, they have each other's backs.
- Their love is a thing that is a joy to watch and is shown, not told, to the audience.
It helps also when the characters involved are outstanding individuals, too, so that to see them come together is a beautiful thing.
Who are your favorite anime couples? Comment below!
??? on August 01, 2019:
R6ex on July 02, 2017:
Tokyo Ravens - Natsume & Harutora
Snow White with Red Hair - Shirayuki & Zen
Hildy Gloom on July 09, 2016:
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on July 03, 2016:
I thought it was a cool movie, but that didn't strike me as a very romantic pairing as much as an unlikely friendship. Her looking like an old lady for most of the movie for one. Howl also just seems like a weird, bratty teenager. I mean, he freaks out about his hair color, he's obsessed over his own appearance. Their relationship felt more like nagging grandma - sullen teenager than like anything that could be romantic, even if they intended that. I don't know, I'd have to watch the movie again, it has been a while.
Hildy Gloom on July 03, 2016:
why aren't Howl and Sophie on this list?
Tiffany Cheng on October 15, 2015:
Syaoran x Sakura from Cardcaptor Sakura
I love this couple very much, they were started of as rivals for the cards but after that they slowly became friends and then they slowly fall in love with each other. It was also cute to see the moments where Syaoran helped Sakura to capture the cards and to see Syaoran blushing when he fell in love for Sakura.
Milady González on September 13, 2015:
I hope you get around to watching it, I would like your thoughts on how the story turned out!
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on September 08, 2015:
Yeah it was like, oh look, they're in a dungeon fighting monsters, as a team, learning the Power of Friendship... seen in like at least a dozen animes off the top of my head. It probably gets better like you said though.
Milady González on September 08, 2015:
I felt the same way when I started watching it RachaelLefler! It took about 4 episodes to really get hooked since those first 4 seemed to be just to present the crisis that they are in and explain the characters to the audience. After that though, I could not stop watching. It is a fairly new dynamic they tried exploring with it but I think you might like it.
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on September 07, 2015:
I haven't really watched much SAO. I guess I tend to prefer older shows and am hesitant to jump on the bandwagon after anything new and trendy. Maybe I'll give it a second chance at a first impression later but in that genre I preferred similar concepts in different shows, such as Accel World, .hack//signs and Log Horizon. Nothing about SAO seemed particularly interesting to me. But maybe I should get back to it. A lot of anime series aren't that great in the first few episodes but build into something spectacular later on, like Trigun and Sailor Moon.
Milady González on September 07, 2015:
I loved Miroku and Sango as well! Their chemistry and way of being with each other is something that seems to lack in many anime relationships. I would have also thought about Kirito and Asuna for this list since they fit your description so well and they had that connection we do not usually see in anime.
Great list! I love your description and passion.
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on June 27, 2015:
Well I think there was more to Keiko than you think because not all characters have to be muscly action heroes, and she has a lot of tender moments. I know that she's not much more than a spectator in the Dark Tournament arc, but she does more in other parts of the series. Everyone in that show is tied to Yusuke or they wouldn't be there. Keiko has a lot of her own character, she's like the opposite of Yusuke in every way, a smart, compassionate girl who is sensitive and wise beyond her years. She may not be a fighter, but she was good for bringing humanity and balance into Yusuke's world.
As for Sango and Miroku, the fact that they were routine and predictable at times was sometimes annoying, that's why they're not high on the list, but the moments where they do move beyond that and show real caring for one another are great.
Thugs Bunny on June 27, 2015:
Hated it the moment you mentioned the horrendous Yusuke and Keiko pairing. Don't mistake me, I love Yusuke as much as the next guy does, because he's an amazing badass main character, but his relationship with Keiko was extremely generic and just not interesting at all, mostly because Keiko didn't have a character. Her entire personality was solely defined for her romantic feelings for Yusuke.
And Miroku and Sango... ptff, please. An horrendous pairing. What emotional connection did the two ever establish before it was revealed they were romantically interested in each other? Miroku hitting on every girl he lays his sights on and Sango getting angry does not show the two understanding each other emotionally.
It just shows Sango being aggravated with Miroku's antics. Bottom line is, they were only lumped together because there was no one else. LAME.
Not to mention they grope/slap routine grew extremely stale and annoying over time.
Sorry, but this was a terrible list all in all
Pat Servin on June 15, 2015:
Yes exactly. They weren't afraid of their feelings for each other.
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on June 10, 2015:
Yeah, I liked them more too. They were more mature about working out their issues, and the writers didn't throw as much love triangle drama at them for the sake of drama.
Pat Servin on June 09, 2015:
I totally agree with you about what makes a good anime couple. I hate it when an anime couple is predicatable and follows the typical pattern. My favorite couple on your list is Miroku and Sango. I always liked them better than Inuyasha and Kagome.
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on June 07, 2015:
gorgeousgen, I agree I like Fushigi Yuugi a lot, I just haven't seen all of it.
Link10103 on June 07, 2015:
I would say its to pander to the female audience more. There is an insane amount of romance anime that has the guy pretty average looking, but has the girl looking like a busty angel.
Big boobs = drooling guys.
Pretty boy face = hyper explosive fangirls.
poetryman6969 on June 07, 2015:
I still find it strange when you see a cartoon where the guy character is drawn with a prettier face than the girl he is involved with. But with what we have just witnessed with Jenner, maybe that is been done on purpose.
Genesis Diocares from Dagupan City on June 07, 2015:
I think Miaka and Tamahome in Fushigi Yuugi should be included.
Just saying, I love them both ^_^
Link10103 on June 06, 2015:
Some pretty old school stuffs here. Pleasantly surprised that i know of all of them besides the last. Haven't watched it yet but i got it bookmarked.
Recently I've been craving hardcore comedy animes, and it just so happens the majority of the ones i find the funniest/most interesting have romance as the main plot.
Finished Sakurasou few days ago and Your lie in april 2 days ago. The latter hit me in the feels quite a bit...and ive probably listened to the first OP of it about 50 times. Might be one of my top favorite shows overall.